Tag Archives: contrast

How does a Raw Image Get Rendered?

What are the basic low level steps involved in raw file conversion?  In this article I will discuss what happens under the hood of digital camera raw converters in order to turn raw file data into a viewable image, a process sometimes referred to as ‘rendering’.  We will use the following raw capture to show how image information is transformed at every step along the way:

Nikon D610 with AF-S 24-120mm f/4 lens at 24mm f/8 ISO100, minimally rendered from raw as outlined in the article.
Figure 1. Nikon D610 with AF-S 24-120mm f/4 lens at 24mm f/8 ISO100, minimally rendered from raw by Octave/Matlab following the steps outlined in the article.

Rendering = Raw Conversion + Editing

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Image Quality: Raising ISO vs Pushing in Conversion

In the last few posts I have made the case that Image Quality in a digital camera is entirely dependent on the light Information collected at a sensor’s photosites during Exposure.  Any subsequent processing – whether analog amplification and conversion to digital in-camera and/or further processing in-computer – effectively applies a set of Information Transfer Functions to the signal  that when multiplied together result in the data from which the final photograph is produced.  Each step of the way can at best maintain the original Information Quality (IQ) but in most cases it will degrade it somewhat.

IQ: Only as Good as at Photosites’ Output

This point is key: in a well designed imaging system** the final image IQ is only as good as the scene information collected at the sensor’s photosites, independently of how this information is stored in the working data along the processing chain, on its way to being transformed into a pleasing photograph.  As long as scene information is properly encoded by the system early on, before being written to the raw file – and information transfer is maintained in the data throughout the imaging and processing chain – final photograph IQ will be virtually the same independently of how its data’s histogram looks along the way.

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